Performance Assurance

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PUBLIC OPINION AND CORRECTIONS:

RECENT FINDINGS IN CANADA

Julian V. Roberts,

University of Ottawa

Report for the Correctional Service of Canada

March 31, 2005

The Correctional Service of Canada does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any information, content or opinion contained in this document, nor the quality of any information displayed by anyone as a result of having obtained a copy. The contents of the report do not necessarily represent the views of the Correctional Service of Canada, the Performance Assurance Sector or the Evaluation & Review Branch.

Executive Summary

Purpose of Report

This report summarizes research that has explored public knowledge of, and attitudes towards the correctional system in Canada. The review includes all published and unpublished surveys retrieved in this manner. The emphasis is upon findings emerging from representative surveys of the public, although qualitative studies such as focus groups are also included. Where possible and appropriate, comparisons are made between public attitudes in this country and other jurisdictions.

Public Knowledge of Corrections

Findings from qualitative and quantitative studies converge on the same finding: Most people know little about the nature and functioning of the correctional system. A survey conducted in 2004 asked Canadians to rate their knowledge of the federal correctional system. Given four response options, "very", "somewhat", "not very" or "not at all" informed, only 7% rated themselves as very informed, while 40% responded with "somewhat informed". Similar trends emerge from surveys conducted in other countries.

Qualitative research (focus groups) conducted for the Solicitor General in 1996 found that "people know nothing about statutory release and very little about parole" Similarly, participants knew very little about day parole, halfway houses or any other correctional issue. The most recent qualitative research conducted for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada found that "Most participants admitted that they had little real idea of what inmates do all day in prison.most participants admitted that they could only guess at what inmates do all day".

In 1998, a survey conducted in this country for the Solicitor General Canada asked Canadians about the use of incarceration. Respondents were asked whether "compared to other countries" the imprisonment rate was much or somewhat higher, about the same, somewhat or much lower in Canada. The correct answer is that the incarceration rate in this country is much or somewhat higher than other countries (depending upon the specific country to which comparison is made), but only 14% of the sample chose one of these responses.

Perceptions of Prison Life

One of the most well documented findings in the field is that people believe prison life is easy. Representative surveys and qualitative studies in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and elsewhere all converge on the same finding: the public believes prison conditions are too soft. The most recent survey to pose a question about prison conditions confirms this public stereotype of prison life. Canadians were asked whether conditions in penitentiaries were too harsh, about right or too comfortable. Fully 50% held the view that conditions were too comfortable; less than one third believed conditions were about right. These perceptions can be directly traced to the public's principal source of information about correctional issues: the news media.

Confidence in the Correctional System

The public has most confidence in the police, and least in the prison system. Fully 88% of respondents stated that they were very or somewhat confident in the RCMP; less than half the sample expressed this level of confidence in the prison system. The lowest levels of confidence were associated with parole: approximately one third of respondents expressed this level of confidence with respect to the parole system. This hierarchy of confidence emerges from surveys conducted in all western nations.

Several explanations account for this universal hierarchy of confidence involving different branches of criminal justice. First, the public is more supportive of a crime control than a due process model of justice, and the police are seen to be "on the side of crime control". Second, the police are far more visible than other criminal justice professionals such as correctional officers.

There is some limited evidence that confidence in corrections is increasing. The proportion of respondents who express a reasonable degree of confidence in the prison and parole systems was higher in 2002 than 1997, although confidence levels were stable or higher for the other branches of criminal justice.

There is considerable variation in public evaluations of specific correctional functions. Ratings are significantly more positive with respect to maintaining security than promoting rehabilitation. Thus in Canada the 1999 General Social Survey (GSS) found that 58% of the sample were very or fairly confident that the prison system was doing a good job in maintaining security, but only 46% held this view of the prison's ability to promote rehabilitation.

Opinions about the Purpose of Corrections

From the perspective of the public in Canada and elsewhere, there is no single purpose associated with the correctional system. Rather, people see an important role for both rehabilitation or reintegration and punishment. This finding emerges from a number of surveys and qualitative research studies that have explored the issue. In 2002, Leger Marketing asked Canadians to identify "the main priority for the Canadian correctional system". Respondents were provided with three options: punishment, deterrence and social integration. The survey found almost equal support for punishment and reintegration: in terms of "total mentions', 36% identified punishment, 34% reintegration, and 27% deterrence.

Canadians continue to support Rehabilitation

A number of surveys demonstrate that Canadians continue to support reintegration. For example a nationwide poll conducted in 2002 found that more than four out of five respondents agreed that: "a significant number of offenders can become law-abiding citizens through programs, education and other support". The abiding faith in the correctional philosophy among Canadians also emerges from another recent (2004) poll. Respondents were asked which of two statements came closest to their opinion: " Most offenders can be rehabilitated into law abiding citizens"; "Most offenders cannot be rehabilitated ".

Almost two-thirds of respondents endorsed the positive statement about rehabilitation (8% responded "depends" or "don't know"). However, the pattern of responses reversed itself in response to the next question that asked: " What about inmates who have committed violent crimes and sexual offences? Do you think that most of them can or cannot ever be rehabilitated? " In response, almost three-quarters of the sample held the view that these inmates cannot be rehabilitated.

Knowledge of, and Attitudes to Parole

Public knowledge of parole is particularly poor. Most people over-estimate the parole grant rate as well as the rate of paroles that result in revocation for fresh offending. These misperceptions have been documented in Canada and elsewhere for 20 years now.

Despite this "knowledge base" Canadians remain supportive of parole. Respondents to a survey in 1998 were given a choice between two clear policy options. They were asked whether they preferred a system that "keeps inmates in prison right to the end of their sentences" (a no-parole, "flat time" system) or a system that releases some prisoners into the community under supervision before their sentence ends (the status quo in Canada). Results showed that the public supported a parole system over the "no parole" option by a margin of 3 to 1.

Most recently, respondents in Quebec and Ontario were asked to agree or disagree with the statement that: " It is safer to gradually release offenders into society under supervision and control than to release them without conditions at the end of the sentence ". Fully 84% agreed, only 14% disagreed with the statement. These findings were confirmed by focus groups conducted in 2004: When participants were asked what would happen if there were no parole and inmates served their entire sentence before being released with no supervision, "the consensus was that this would be catastrophic" (Environics Research Group, 2004b, p. 14).

These findings do not mean that Canadians support parole for all profiles of offenders. Less than one quarter of the polled public agreed with the statement that: "all offenders should be considered for parole" (Leger Marketing, 2002). Canadians continued to be troubled by parole for violent offenders: over half the respondents to a nationwide poll conducted in 2002 agreed that parole should be abolished for "all violent criminals" (Leger Marketing, 2002b). However, once again this finding must be considered in the context of what people have in their minds when they hear the phrase "violent criminal". The public image of offenders, particularly violent offenders, tends to be far worse than reality: most people have in mind an offender convicted of a very serious crime of violence, and with multiple, related previous convictions. Reality is quite different; this profile of offender accounts for a relatively small percentage of the prison population.

It seems clear that although members of the public may frequently be critical of the parole system, they do not support abolishing parole. In this respect little has changed: a survey published in 1988 found that only one quarter of respondents at that time favoured the abolition of parole.

Effects of Providing Information: The views of the Informed Public

A number of studies conducted in Canada as well as other western nations have compared the reactions of informed versus uninformed respondents. The general finding is that public attitudes to punishment become less punitive when participants are provided with more information about the justice system, the offence or the offender.

Conclusions

It seems clear that if Canadians knew more about the correctional system, their attitudes would be more positive. However, discontent will probably remain with respect to issues on which there is a fundamental difference between public opinion and correctional practice. One such issue may be statutory release; while the public clearly supports a discretionary conditional release program, the limited research on statutory release suggests no comparable level of support for this program.

Introduction1

A wealth of research has recently been conducted on public attitudes to the criminal justice system. This research report will review studies that have explored attitudes to corrections in Canada. A manual and electronic search was conducted of a number of library collections and databases. The review includes all published and unpublished surveys retrieved in this manner. The emphasis is upon findings emerging from representative surveys of the public, although qualitative studies such as focus groups are also included. Where possible and appropriate, comparisons are made between public attitudes in this country and other jurisdictions. The report draws on published and unpublished polls examining various correctional issues over the past 20 years (1985-2005).

The report is designed to serve several purposes: First, to provide a concise review of twenty years of polling on the issue of corrections in Canada. Many surveys have been conducted over this period but findings are typically reported only for a single poll. The second purpose is to contextualize the principal findings in the field. For example, a common finding is that the public expresses less confidence in corrections than other branches of criminal justice. Rather than simply report the low level of confidence, the report attempts to understand why this may be so. Finally, the report is intended to be useful to researchers and policy makers by providing a concise summary of the principal findings in the area. The point of departure is a major analysis of public attitudes to corrections conducted in late 2004 by the Environics Research Group (Environics Research Group, 2004a).

  • The following questions are addressed (among others):
  • how much do Canadians know about Corrections?
  • how much confidence do Canadians have in the Correctional system including parole?
  • where is support for Corrections strongest (and weakest)?
  • what do we know about trends in public attitudes to correctional issues?

After reviewing the findings from research conducted over the past 20 years, the report concludes by evaluating studies in which researchers have attempted to change public attitudes by improving levels of knowledge.

Findings

1. Public Knowledge of Corrections

Public knowledge of corrections in general is poor

Before reviewing research that has explored public attitudes, it is necessary to understand the knowledge base on which the public relies. Findings from qualitative and quantitative studies converge on the same finding: Most people know little about the nature and functioning of the correctional system. Although few surveys in Canada have posed questions testing knowledge of the correctional system, or asked respondents to rate their level of knowledge, this has been accomplished in other jurisdictions. A recent survey in Britain (MORI, 2003) asked respondents to state how much they knew about various branches of criminal justice. As can be seen in Table 1, the British public reports knowing less about prisons than the other principal branches of criminal justice. Thus approximately three-quarters stated that they knew a great deal or a fair amount about the police; less than one third reported this level of familiarity with prisons.

Table 1

Self-reported level of knowledge about criminal justice in Britain

 

A great deal/ fair amount

Not very much

Hardly anything/ nothing at all

Police

74%

19%

7%

Courts

51%

32%

17%

Prisons

30%

38%

31%

Probation service

23%

40%

37%

Crown Prosecution Service

27%

41%

33%

Youth courts

18%

38%

45%

Source: MORI (2003); Question: "How much, if anything, do you know about each of the following..."

Canadians no more informed about correctional issues than people in other countries

How do these levels of self-reported knowledge compare with Canada? The 2004 Environics poll asked Canadians to rate their knowledge of the federal correctional system. Given four response options, "very", "somewhat", "not very" or "not at all" informed, only 7% rated themselves as very informed, while 40% responded with "somewhat informed" (Environics Research Group, 2004a). The imprecise nature of the question and the response options provided make it hard to draw firm conclusions about the level of knowledge in Canada, but it seems unlikely that the Canadian public is more informed about these issues than the public in the US or UK.

One of the rare explorations of public knowledge of corrections was conducted for the Correctional Services of Quebec (Soucy, 1997). Respondents in the province of Quebec were asked a series of specific questions about the correctional system. Knowledge levels varied depending upon the question, but were not very high. For example, just half the sample was aware that sentences of less than two years are served in provincial prisons. Significantly less than half (41%) of the sample knew that prisoners in the provincial system are most likely serving sentences for non-violent offences.

This is a significant finding; it suggests that people assume that most prisoners are serving time for crimes of violence, and therefore represent a greater risk to society. Four out of five respondents knew that provincial prisoners have access to work and training activities. However, this last question is not that challenging, and respondents could easily have guessed correctly. Finally, polling conducted in 1987 for the Canadian Criminal Justice Association found that only two out of ten respondents were able to accurately estimate the costs of incarcerating an offender or supervising an offender on parole (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 1988).

Residents of Kingston, who might be expected to be more informed about correctional issues in light of the number of federal institutions in the area, fared little better when asked questions about corrections. A survey conducted for the Correctional Service of Canada in 2000 found that approximately two-thirds responded "don't know" when asked to specify the main difference between the federal and provincial correctional systems (Environic Research Group, 2000). Fewer than one respondent in ten knew about the federal-provincial two year split of prison sentences.

Qualitative research (focus groups) conducted for the Solicitor General in 1996 found that "people know nothing about statutory release and very little about parole" (Angus Reid Group, Inc., 1996). Similarly, participants knew very little about day parole, halfway houses or any other correctional issue. The most recent qualitative research conducted for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada found that "Most participants admitted that they had little real idea of what inmates do all day in prison.most participants admitted that they could only guess at what inmates do all day" (Environics Research Group, 2004b, pp. 7-8). As will be seen in the next section, however, this does not prevent people from forming quite definite opinions about the nature of life in prison.

Most Canadians unaware of the relatively high use of imprisonment

In 1998, a survey conducted in this country for the Solicitor General Canada asked Canadians about the use of incarceration. Respondents were asked whether "compared to other countries" the imprisonment rate was much or somewhat higher, about the same, somewhat or much lower in Canada. The correct answer is that the incarceration rate in this country is much or somewhat higher than other countries (depending upon the specific country to which comparison is made), but only 14% of the sample chose one of these responses (Roberts, Nuffield and Hann, 2000). Approximately half the sample (49%) believed that the imprisonment rate in Canada is lower than other countries; 28% thought that it was about the same (Roberts et al., 2000).

This misperception is likely a consequence of a more general public attitude that the justice system is generally too lenient. When asked about sentencing trends, for example, most Canadians respond that the sentences imposed are too lenient. This has been true for over a generation (see Doob and Roberts, 1983; Sanders and Roberts, 2005). People probably infer that the incarceration rate is lower here, because the justice system appears so lenient. This finding may well be an example of attitudes influencing knowledge, rather than the reverse.

Prison Conditions

People know little about prison life but assume that it is too easy

One of the most well documented findings in the field is that people around the world believe that prison life is easy. Representative surveys and qualitative studies in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and elsewhere all converge on the same finding: the public believes prison conditions are too soft (see Roberts and Hough, 2005a, for a review of international findings). For example, focus groups conducted in Canada in 1996 found that "A key criticism of the whole justice system was the perceived conditions in our prison system. Participants were quick to provide examples of how well they felt inmates were being treated with mentions of $5,000 typewriters, TV satellites, colour TVs, three full meals per day, educational opportunities, conjugal visits etc. People generally feel inmates are too well treated and that offenders are not being sufficiently punished" (Angus Reid, 1997, p. 14).

The most recent survey to pose a question about prison conditions confirms this public stereotype of prison life. Canadians were asked whether conditions in penitentiaries were too harsh, about right, or too comfortable. Fully 50% held the view that conditions were too comfortable; less than one third believed conditions were about right (Environics Canada, 2004a). Fifteen percent acknowledged that they did not know what conditions in prison were like, and 3% believed conditions were too harsh. Another question on the survey forced respondents to subscribe to one of two (erroneous) descriptions of prisons in Canada: " Prisons are overcrowded, dark, violent and scary places " or " Prisons in Canada are like resorts with swimming pools, gyms and lounges ". It is somewhat curious in light of responses to the first question that respondents were evenly divided in their agreement with these two statements: 39% endorsed the first, 37% the second. A further 11% stated that neither statement matched their understanding of prisons (8% responded "don't know").

It is unfortunate that the survey did not ask respondents whether they had ever been inside a penitentiary, and if so, in what capacity. Few members of the public have actually seen the inside of prison. The 1996 British Crime Survey found that four out of five respondents had never been in a prison in any capacity (Hough and Roberts, 1998). It is likely that a similar proportion of the public in Canada has direct experience of correctional institutions. Even those individuals who have visited a prisoner will have been restricted to the public visiting area of the prison, and will have only second-hand insight into daily life on the wings and in the cells2.

To summarize, whether people are asked to rate their knowledge of corrections, or are asked specific factual questions, the outcome is the same: relatively low levels of public knowledge.

The News Media constitute the Principal Source of Information for the Public

Consistent with the results of previous polls, most Canadians cite the news media as their principal source of information about corrections. When asked to identify their main source of information about the correctional system, responses were evenly divided between newspaper stories and television news. This may well explain many of the misperceptions or stereotypes held by the public. Corrections in the news generally mean bad news. As will be seen later in this report, few Canadians understand the true nature of life in prison. However, people are aware of bad or controversial news. For example, most of the participants in focus groups conducted in 2004 were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incarceration of Karla Homolka (Environics Research Group, 2004b).

Public (mis)perceptions of prison populations and prison conditions create a problem for the correctional system. People believe (i) that all prisons regardless of whether provincial or federal contain violent (i.e., dangerous) prisoners, and (ii) that these individuals enjoy an easy life inside. This conflation of the two stereotypes fuels cynicism about the justice system and likely undermines public confidence in corrections. It is to the issue of public confidence that we now turn.

2. Confidence in the Correctional System

This hierarchy of confidence has been stable for many years: in 1996, 86% of respondents to a national survey reported being very or somewhat confident in the police, compared to 42% who expressed this level of confidence in the prison system and 25% who expressed this degree of confidence in the parole system (Angus Reid, 1997). Similarly 37% of the public were very confident in the work of the police while only 3% had this level of confidence in the parole system (Angus Reid, 1997).

Public confidence in branches of the justice system (2002)

Table 2 provides additional data about public confidence in branches of the Canadian criminal justice system. This table makes an "audit" analysis possible with respect to confidence levels. As can be seen there is a positive balance for all branches of the justice system - except the prison and parole systems, with the greatest confidence deficit emerging for the parole system.

Table 2
Confidence in branches of the justice system (2002)

 

% very or
somewhat confident

% not very or
not at all confident

RCMP

88%

9%

Local police

83%

12%

Supreme Court

78%

18%

Prosecutors

71%

24%

Courts

62%

36%

Prison system

49%

48%

Parole system

36%

61%

Note: The report supplied to the government by Ipsos-Reid unhelpfully collapses responses into these two categories, although four options were in fact offered to respondents.

The range in confidence ratings across branches of the justice system is also apparent from examining the respondents with the least amount of confidence. Thus fewer than one respondent in ten reported being "not very" or "not at all" confident in the RCMP, compared to almost two-thirds of the sample that held this perception of the parole system. This pattern of findings - with police agencies receiving the most positive and the courts and prison systems attracting the most negative ratings - is replicated in all jurisdictions in which systematic surveys of the public have been conducted (see Hough and Roberts, 2004).

For example, a recent (2003) survey in the United Kingdom found that over three-quarters of the respondents expressed confidence in the police, but less than half the sample was confident of the prison system (MORI, 2003). Table 3 provides a hierarchy of criminal justice agencies in Britain, showing the percentage of respondents who rate the agency as doing a good or excellent job. As can be seen, the police attract more positive ratings than all other agencies including the prison system.

Table 3
Public Ratings of Criminal Justice Agencies in Britain

 

% Respondents rating agencies
as doing a good or excellent job

Police

48%

Magistrates/judges

26%

Prisons

25%

Probation

24%

Crown Prosecution Service

23%

Youth courts

14%

Source: Nicholas and Walker (2004); Question: "We would like to know how good a job you think each of the groups of people who make up the Criminal Justice System are doing. Please give an answer from this card. How good a job do you think [agency] are doing?" 

There is some limited3 evidence that Canadians' confidence in corrections has increased. Table 4 compares confidence levels from surveys conducted in 1997 and 2002. As can be seen, the proportion of respondents who express a reasonable degree of confidence in the prison and parole systems was higher in 2002 than 1997, although confidence levels were stable or higher for the other branches of criminal justice.

Table 4
Percentage of respondents who were very
or somewhat confident in criminal justice agencies

 

2002

1997

Local Police

88%

86%

RCMP

83%

83%

Courts

62%

52%

Prison system

49%

42%

Parole system

36%

25%

Sources: Angus Reid (1997); Ipsos Reid (2002)

Table 5 summarizes findings from surveys in three jurisdictions: the US, Canada and the UK. This table confirms the hierarchy of confidence to which reference has already been made: the police inspire more public confidence than other branches of criminal justice. The table also suggests that confidence in the prison system is somewhat lower in Canada than the US (see Table 5).

Table 5
Confidence in Branches of Justice:
Percentage of respondents extremely, very or somewhat confident

 

US

(1999)

Canada

(2002)

UK

(2003)

Supreme Court

85%

78%

N/a

Local Police

90%

83%

76%

Courts

77%

62%

51%

Prison system

71%

49%

48%

Sources: ABA (1999); Ipsos-Reid (2002); MORI (2003)

Explaining variation in confidence levels between criminal justice agencies

Why do members of the public express less confidence in the correctional system? Several explanations present themselves to account for this universal hierarchy of confidence involving different branches of criminal justice. The different mandates of the organizations are clearly relevant. Packer (1968) identified two competing models of criminal justice: crime control and due process. The public is clearly more sympathetic to crime control than due process. Support for this proposition can be found in findings from a number of surveys.

A British poll recently found that four out of five respondents agreed with changing the law to permit the state to re-try individuals who have been found not guilty (Observer, 2003). An American survey revealed that nearly half of those interviewed believed that the criminal justice system treats defendants better than victims (National Crime Center, 1991). Similarly, a poll conducted in 1996 asked American respondents to rate the importance of various functions of the criminal justice system, and "respecting the constitutional rights of accused persons" was supported by significantly fewer respondents than "processing cases efficiently" (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2004).

No survey in Canada has directly explored public support for the two competing models of criminal justice. However, there is little reason to believe that Canadians would respond differently. A number of polls do shed some light on Canadian attitudes regarding the crime control-due process dichotomy. During the 1980s, the Goldfarb report asked Canadians to identify "social changes that they would welcome". When asked about "More emphasis on law and order" - a reasonable substitute for crime control - over three-quarters of the public stated that this would be a welcome social change.4 A similar percentage endorsed "Greater police powers to curb crime" (National Parole Board, 1988). Finally, the most recent poll asked Canadians to identify the factors that have an impact on crime in Canada. Sixty percent of the sample identified the criminal justice system as being responsible for increasing the crime rate (Ekos Research Associates, 2004a). The system created to respond to crime is thus perceived as a cause of crime. The perception of a criminal justice system tilted towards protecting the rights of the guilty and being lenient towards offenders appears to be universal in western nations.

The public is equally intolerant of obstacles to prosecuting (and convicting) defendants. The aphorism is well engrained in legal thinking that it is better to acquit ten guilty individuals than allow an innocent person to be convicted. The desire to ensure that the innocent are acquitted explains the many criminal procedures designed to avoid such a judicial mistake. The public, however, appears to be less concerned about the occurrence of wrongful convictions. A British Attitudes Survey asked people whether it was worse to convict an innocent person or to let a guilty person go free. Almost half (42%) of the public felt that letting a guilty person go free was worse (Dowds, 1995, Table B.3). This finding reflects the "crime control" orientation of the public. Most people favour a justice system that allows police and prosecutors significant powers rather than a system that follows procedural safeguards to ensure that due process is maintained.

While the police have to observe constitutionally based rules regarding the treatment of suspects and the collection of evidence, police practices are ultimately regulated by the courts. In the popular mind, therefore, the mandate of the police is closer to the crime control model of justice. Correctional authorities must respect the rights of prisoners, while parole boards must act in the interests of the prisoner as well as society. Members of the public are less familiar with, and also have less sympathy with these correctional concerns and this may be reflected in the perceptions that people have of the courts, prosecutors and correctional authorities.

Mere Exposure?

One final explanation for the higher public approval ratings of the police is more mundane than theoretical. From many perspectives, the police are the most visible of all criminal justice professionals - they wear uniforms, usually drive marked vehicles, perform their duties in public and on the streets of the nation. The very public nature of much of police work is in contrast to the activities of other professionals such as correctional officers or parole boards, whose duties are discharged out of the public eye. This explains why a significant proportion of the population has contact with a police officer at some point; the MORI poll in the United Kingdom found that 30% of the respondents reported having some contact with the police in the previous year. How many people have contact with a correctional officer or a member of the parole board? Higher levels of exposure to the police are likely to promote confidence in the policing branch of criminal justice.

Evaluations of Correctional System

Prisons do a better job of guarding prisoners than rehabilitating them

Table 6
Public Ratings of prison system, three countries

Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good

job

Average

job

Poor

job

 

Don't know

Maintaining security

26%

32%

20%

 

21%

Promoting rehabilitation of prisoners

14%

32%

28%

 

26%

 

 

 

 

 

 

United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Don't know

Maintaining security

18%

49%

23%

8%

2%

Promoting rehabilitation of prisoners

2%

12%

34%

48%

4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very confident

Fairly confident

Not very confident

Not at all confident

Don't know

 

Maintaining security

25%

64%

7%

1%

3%

Promoting rehabilitation of prisoners

5%

39%

40%

9%

7%

Sources: US: see Sourcebook of Justice Statistics; UK: MORI (2003); Canada: Tufts (2000)

3. Public Opinion and the Purpose of Corrections

Canadians ascribe multiple goals to the Correctional system: it should rehabilitate, punish and deter offenders

Perhaps the most basic issue in this area concerns the purpose of corrections. From the perspective of the public in Canada and elsewhere, there is no single purpose associated with the correctional system. Rather, people see an important role for both rehabilitation or reintegration and punishment. This finding emerges from a number of surveys and qualitative research studies5 that have explored the issue. In 2002, Leger Marketing asked Canadians to identify "the main priority for the Canadian correctional system". Respondents were provided with three options: punishment, deterrence and social integration (Leger, 2002a).

The survey found almost equal support for punishment and reintegration: in terms of "total mentions', 36% identified punishment, 34% reintegration, and 27% deterrence. The same result emerged when people were asked whether these three correctional goals should be assigned a high, medium or low priority.6 Earlier surveys also report approximately equal support for punishment and rehabilitation (e.g., Corporate Research Associates Inc., 1998). The most recent survey (2004) used a different wording, but the outcome was essentially the same (see Environics Research Group, 2004a).

Findings from surveys such as this should be interpreted with caution. Respondents are provided with no description of the nature of the prisoners in the correctional system. This is significant because other research has shown that the image of an offender or a prisoner in the public mind is one of a serious violent offender, often with a criminal record. As noted earlier, people over-estimate the number of prisoners in the provincial system who are incarcerated for serious crimes of violence, and this misperception is likely to skew responses, and inflate support for punishment. A more appropriate way of asking the question is to ask people to identify the purpose of corrections for a specific profile of offender. This approach has been adopted with respect to sentencing (see Roberts, 1988), but regrettably not corrections.

Public believes rehabilitation is possible for most offenders

A number of surveys demonstrate that Canadians continue to support reintegration. Thus a nationwide poll conducted by Leger Marketing in 2002 found that more than four out of five respondents agreed that: "a significant number of offenders can become law-abiding citizens through programs, education and other support". The abiding faith in the correctional philosophy among Canadians also emerges from the 2004 Environics poll. Respondents were asked which of two statements came closest to their opinion: "Most offenders can be rehabilitated into law abiding citizens"; "Most offenders cannot be rehabilitated". Almost two-thirds of respondents endorsed the positive statement about rehabilitation (8% responded "depends" or "don't know"; Environics, 2004a).

However, the pattern of responses reversed itself in response to the next question which asked: "What about inmates who have committed violent crimes and sexual offences? Do you think that most of them can or cannot ever be rehabilitated?" As can be seen in Table 7, almost three-quarters of the sample held the view that these inmates cannot be rehabilitated. This finding highlights the strong views held by the public regarding violent and sex offenders. Once again however, two qualifications must be made.

First, research has repeatedly demonstrated that when people are asked a general question of this kind, they respond with a more negative view. Questions such as these encourage a categorical rather than an individual approach to offenders. If respondents had been provided with case histories of offenders serving sentences for violent offences, they would have been less likely to perceive them all as being uniformly "unredeemable". Second, as noted earlier, the public image of a violent or sex offender generally reflects only the most serious cases, namely offenders with lengthy histories of offending.

Table 7
Public Attitudes to Rehabilitation

 

Most Offenders in Federal Prisons

Inmates who have committed violent crimes and sexual offences

Can be rehabilitated

63%

18%

Cannot be rehabilitated

28%

71%

Depends/ don't know

8%

11%

Total

100%

100%

Attitudes to Reintegration

Further evidence of the depth of Canadians' support for reintegration in the correctional system emerges from a survey in Quebec in which respondents were asked the following question: "If you were asked to become personally involved in reintegrating an ex-inmate deemed not dangerous by, for instance, giving an hour of your time each week to a volunteer agency working with such individuals, how likely would you be to agree to provide such assistance?". Almost half the sample responded that they would be somewhat or very likely to assist (Soucy, 1997).

Finally, it is important to note that the strong support for rehabilitation is not a new phenomenon in Canada. A survey conducted in 1979 found that over two thirds of respondents supported an increase in taxes "to create jobs for people who come out of prison" (Brillon, Louis-Guerin and Lamarche, 1984). A similar percentage supported increasing taxes to pay for halfway houses for ex-prisoners (Brillon, Louis-Guerin and Lamarche, 1984).

Attitudes to Halfway Houses

Although public resistance to halfway houses and other correctional facilities receives considerable attention in the press, more reliable indicators of public opinion reveal a somewhat different picture. If the public were apprehensive of, or opposed to correctional facilities this would be seen in response to questions relating to these institutions. A recent (2002) survey asked respondents whether the presence of correctional facilities such as halfway houses, penitentiaries and psychiatric facilities threatened the safety of the community. Only 12% of the sample expressed the view that the community was less safe as a result of these institutions (Leger Marketing, 2002b). Similarly when Kingston residents were asked if the presence of halfway houses in their city made their city more or less safe, only 16% responded that the area was less safe as a result of these residences. Almost two-thirds responded that they made no difference, while 12% believed that the city was safer as a result of the halfway houses (Environics Research Group, 2000).

The same survey contained a more direct question. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the presence of treatment centres and halfway houses in their communities. Respondents were significantly more likely to agree than disagree with the presence of these facilities: fully three-quarters agreed, only one in five disagreed (Leger Marketing, 2002b). The most recent exploration of public attitudes to halfway houses can be found in the 2004 Environics poll. Almost two-thirds of the sample agreed with the statement that: "The halfway houses program is a good way to help offenders reintegrate into society".7(Environics Research Group, 2004a). 8 These findings suggest that the "NIMBY" phenomenon has been overstated.

Parole

Public Knowledge of Parole Trends

Public subscribe to many misperceptions about parole and parolees

Parole remains one of the most controversial elements of the correctional system in Canada. The vast majority of prisoners released on parole complete their time of supervision in the community without violating their release conditions. However, when a parolee commits a serious crime, the media coverage is often intense and negative. A typical example is "Paroled killer charged in death of woman" (Ottawa Citizen, May 8, 2002). Adverse media coverage is surely responsible for the misperceptions of parole held by many Canadians. Some of these misperceptions pertain to the way that the system functions, others to the individuals released by the federal and provincial parole boards.

Representative surveys of the Canadian public have revealed the following trends. Most Canadians:

  • Over-estimate the parole grant rate: In 1998, one-third of Canadians over-estimated the federal parole grant rate: they estimated it was between 60% and 100%; the actual grant rate was 35% (Roberts, Nuffield and Hann, 2000).
  • Assume that all prisoners apply for parole, and that all prisoners receive parole at the first application. In reality a significant percentage of prisoners do not apply for parole.
  • Over-estimate the revocation rate, and assume that revocation occurs most often as a response to fresh offending.
  • Over-estimate the recidivism rate of prisoners released on parole (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 1988).

The most recent survey (conducted in 2004) asked respondents to estimate the percentage of federal parolees that commit another crime while on parole. As can be seen in Table 8, approximately two-thirds of the sample over-estimated the recidivism rate by a substantial margin. This is consistent with polls conducted in 1998 (Roberts, Nuffield and Hann, 2000); and 1985 (Roberts, 1988). Small wonder, therefore, that focus group participants were very surprised to learn that a very high percentage of parolees complete their period of parole in the community without re-offending (Angus Reid Group, 1996).

Table 8
Perceptions of recidivism rate of federal parolees9

Response

 

Accurate (20% or less)*

19%

Small over-estimate (21%-30%)

10%

Large over-estimate (> 30%)

65%

* 10% is the correct response

Qualitative research conducted in 1996 for the Ministry of the Solicitor General found the same general trend. The report notes that: "Their [participants'] perception is simply that a large number of inmates are released after serving a very small portion of their sentences" (Angus Reid, 1996).

In light of these misperceptions, it is unsurprising that the public regards parolees with a certain degree of apprehension: prisoners released on parole are seen to represent a threat to the community. This reaction explains the limited resistance to the creation of halfway houses (see above), and for the general criticism leveled at the National Parole Board. Some commentators have argued that the abolition of parole would help to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system. For example, Greenspan, Matheson and Davis (1998) called for the abolition of parole in large part in order to promote public confidence in the administration of justice. In fact, there have been repeated calls to abolish parole, or to restrict parole to non-violent offenders. The assumption underlying calls for abolition is that the public is implacably opposed to conditional release from prison. Is this the case?

Attitudes to Parole

A number of careful, and balanced explorations of public attitudes to parole have been conducted over the past few years, and they reveal a consistent pattern that demonstrates the erroneous nature of this assumption made by critics of parole. It is worth examining this research in more detail.

Until 1999, the most systematic analysis of Canadians' attitudes to parole was a decade old (Roberts, 1988). In the mid 1980s, it was clear that Canadians favoured the existence of conditional release from prison. A nationwide survey conducted at that time found that two-thirds of the public favoured the existence of a parole system "for certain offenders". Respondents to a survey in 1998 were given a choice between two clear policy options. They were asked whether they preferred a system that "keeps inmates in prison right to the end of their sentences" (a no-parole, "flat time" system) or a system that releases some prisoners into the community under supervision before their sentence ends (the status quo in Canada). Results showed that the public supported a parole system over the "no parole" option by a margin of 3 to 1 (Roberts et al. , 2000).

Most recently, respondents in Quebec and Ontario were asked to agree or disagree with the statement that: "It is safer to gradually release offenders into society under supervision and control than to release them without conditions at the end of the sentence". Fully 84% agreed, only 14% disagreed with the statement (Leger Marketing, 2002b). These findings were confirmed by focus groups conducted in 2004: When participants were asked what would happen if there were no parole and inmates served their entire sentence before being released with no supervision, "the consensus was that this would be catastrophic" (Environics Research Group, 2004b, p. 14).

The public remains opposed to parole for violent offenders, particularly prisoners serving life for murder

These findings do not mean that Canadians support parole for all profiles of offenders. Less than one quarter of the polled public agreed with the statement that: "all offenders should be considered for parole" (Leger Marketing, 2002). Canadians continue to be troubled by the early release of offenders serving sentences for serious crimes of violence: slightly over half (56%) of the respondents to a nationwide poll conducted in 2002 agreed that parole should be abolished for "all violent criminals" (Leger Marketing, 2002b). However, once again this finding must be considered in the context of what people have in their minds when they hear the phrase "violent criminal". The public image of offenders, particularly violent offenders, tends to be far worse than reality: most people have in mind an offender convicted of a very serious crime of violence, and with multiple, related previous convictions (see Roberts and Stalans, 1997, for a review). Reality is quite different; this profile of offender accounts for a relatively small percentage of the prison population.

General Opinions vs. Decisions in Actual Cases

A second way of demonstrating public support for parole involves comparing the responses of two groups of people, some of whom are asked to make a general judgement about parole, while others are asked to make a decision with respect to a specific parole application. In a nationwide survey conducted in 1998, half the respondents were provided with a brief (two sentence) description of parole, the other with a more complete account of the parole process. The purpose was to determine whether an informed public was opposed to parole. All respondents were asked to make a decision about a specific parole application. The results confirmed the hypothesis that the level of information influences support for parole. Less than half of the respondents who had the brief description of parole supported granting the application; three-quarters of the group with more information about the parole system favoured granting parole (Roberts et al. , 2000).

Cumberland and Zamble (1992) conducted research along the same lines. They found that consistent with the results of nation-wide surveys, four out of five participants in their research were dissatisfied with the parole system. However, when a comparable group of people was asked to make decisions in individual cases, a substantial majority endorsed release on parole, even for a prisoner with a lengthy record and who was serving time for a crime of violence.

Summary

To summarize, it seems clear that although members of the public may frequently be critical of the parole system, they do not support abolishing parole. In this respect little has changed: the survey published in 1988 found that only one quarter of respondents at that time favoured the abolition of parole. Where the public and the system appear to disagree is with respect to the kinds of offenders who should be granted parole, and the point in the sentence at which parole is granted. Although they tend to over-estimate the percentage of a sentence that must be served in prison, the public would probably still favour a somewhat later parole eligibility date than one-third, particularly for prisoners serving time for crimes of violence. In addition, although no survey has explored public attitudes to statutory release, it seems likely that they would be opposed to a statutory entitlement of this kind, preferring a system in which prisoners must apply for conditional release.

The attitudes of Canadians with respect to parole are quite similar to those of members of the public in other nations. In a recent review of American attitudes to parole, Cullen, Fisher and Applegate (2000) report that support for parole is strong, particularly for inmates who have taken steps towards rehabilitation while in prison. Not surprisingly, perhaps, public support for rehabilitation diminishes, and support for punishment grows, when the question involves offenders convicted of serious crimes of violence, and who have long criminal histories (see Flanagan, 1996, for further discussion of American attitudes towards correctional issues).

4. Effects of Information on Attitudes

There is a clear link between public knowledge and public attitudes to criminal justice. In general, the most misinformed members of the public tend also to be the most critical. A good example of this association is found in research reported by Mattinson and Mirrlees-Black (2000) who measured knowledge of crime rates and attitudes to sentencing in youth court. These researchers found that one-quarter of the most informed respondents but over half of the least knowledgeable respondents held the view that sentencing was too lenient. As noted earlier, however, this finding is a simple association; establishing whether levels of knowledge determine the direction of opinions requires an experimental design, or a statistical analysis such as logistic regression that permits causal inferences to be drawn from correlational data.

An Informed Public Reacts Differently to Correctional Issues

In light of the limits on public knowledge of criminal justice - and in particular in corrections - an obvious strategy to ameliorate public attitudes involves some form of public legal education. A number of researchers have explored the effects of increasing public awareness of the justice system using experimental designs. The general hypothesis being tested is that public opinion is influenced by, and accordingly will reflect, the amount of information available to respondents. No study has attempted to correct all the misperceptions to which the public subscribes, or to fill all the gaps in public knowledge. Each study therefore represents a partial test of the hypothesis. Nevertheless, taken together, these studies comprise an important element of the public opinion picture.

The general finding is that public attitudes to punishment become less punitive when participants are provided with more information about the sentencing process, the offence or the offender. The following examples illustrate this phenomenon.

•  A number of researchers have provided sub-groups of respondents with differing levels of information about the same case (e.g., Doob and Roberts, 1983; Covell and Howe, 1996; Roberts and Hough, 2005; Roberts et al., 2000). The general finding is that the respondents tend to be more punitive when they are told little about a case. Support for incarceration is higher when people are informed only about the crime of which he has been convicted, and are then asked to impose sentence. Similarly, with respect to parole, when people know little about a parole application, they are more likely to be opposed to granting release, as the following example illustrates.

In the research conducted by Roberts et al. (2000) the hypothesis being tested was that there would be a difference between the views of the public and the attitudes of an informed public. Using a representative sample of the Canadian public, two conditions were created. In the low information condition, respondents were given a brief question: " John Smith is serving a 3-year sentence for break and enter. He has served one year in prison and is now applying for parole. Should he get parole?"

In the high information condition people were asked the same question but were provided with more information about parole:\

"Parole is a programme by which some inmates are allowed to spend part of their sentence in the community. If the Parole Board is convinced that the offender is not a risk to the community, parole is granted. This means that for the remainder of the sentence, the offender has to report to a parole officer and follow a number of rules imposed by the National Parole Board. If the offender breaks the rules he can be returned to prison. Now that you know what parole is all about, here is an actual case. John Smith is serving a three year sentence for break and enter. He has served one year in prison and is now applying for parole to help him adjust to life once his sentence is completed. Smith will be supporting his family when he leaves prison. Should he be released from prison to serve the rest of his sentence in the community, reporting to a parole officer and following the conditions laid down by the Parole Board?"

Less than half the sample (42%) responding to the short version, but fully three-quarters of those who read the longer version of the question favoured granting parole to the individual inmate. It is clear that the public attitudes change significantly in response to information.

•  Researchers have provided detailed information about the sentence that is imposed. For example, Sanders and Roberts (2000) specified the specific conditions of the community based sentencing option imposed with the result that respondents were significantly less inclined to incarcerate the offender.

•  Researchers such as Doble and Klein (1989), Hough and Roberts (1998) and others have provided respondents with more information on the sentencing options available - rather than simply asking for a sentence without specifying the options - and found that support for imprisonment declined10.

Reviewing Attitude Change Experiments

Perhaps the most compelling demonstrations of the impact of information upon attitudes come from Britain. The first, conducted a decade ago, involved the technique known as a "Deliberative Poll". This method of exploring public attitudes combines the large poll's power to generalize from a sample to a population, with the ability of the focus group to provide participants with a considerable degree of information. A Deliberative Poll on crime and justice was conducted in Britain in 1994. Participants attended a weekend seminar on the issues and their attitudes were measured before and after the experience.

The results were encouraging for the 'information - attitude change' hypothesis. Hough and Park (2002) analysed the data from the Deliberative Poll and concluded that: "there were significant and enduring shifts in attitudes". These changes were all in the same direction, involving reduced support for tough measures such as imprisonment as a response to crime and greater support for rehabilitation. It is not really surprising that there was a measurable shift in attitudes immediately after the weekend seminar. More striking is the fact that the change was enduring. Participants were interviewed a third time ten months after the seminar, and the shift in attitudes was still evident.

For example, people were more likely to agree with the statement that "the courts should send fewer people to prison" and less likely to agree that "all murderers should be given a life sentence"; support for imprisoning juvenile burglars declined significantly as a result of the weekend experience, and remained lower after ten months (see Hough and Park, 2002). While significant minorities either did not change their views - or shifted in a less liberal direction - the net change was in a more liberal direction.

Chapman, Mirrlees-Black and Brawn (2002) report findings from a smaller scale experiment. In their study, a randomly selected sample of the British public answered a questionnaire about knowledge of sentencing and related issues. Sub-samples of respondents were then asked to participate in one of three "knowledge improvement" experiments. One group received a booklet about the sentencing process. A second group attended a seminar, while a third watched a videotaped presentation. All participants were exposed to the same information; the only variable was the way that this information was conveyed. Knowledge of criminal justice was measured before and after the respondents had participated in one of the three conditions. Results indicated that knowledge scores improved in all three groups. It is worth examining this study in a little more detail, focusing on the condition which carries most potential as a vehicle for attitude change: the videotaped presentation.

The participants in the video group revealed the largest increases in knowledge. Some examples of the increases in knowledge observed are the following:

  • the percentage knowing about post-release supervision from prison rose from 42 to 70%;
  • the percentage correctly identifying crime trends over the previous two years rose from 12 to 41%;
  • the percentage knowing that in magistrates' court a jury decides whether someone is guilty rose from 68 to 81%.

Clearly, exposure to a brief 30-minute video can increase the viewer's level of knowledge of crime and justice -- it would be surprising if this was not the case, but significant shifts in attitudes also emerged. After viewing the program, people were more confident that the criminal justice system is effective in bringing offenders to justice. The critical question relating to sentencing trends was measured before and after people had watched the video. Most viewers (58%) did not change their opinion about the appropriateness of sentences imposed by the courts. However, over a quarter of the participants became less punitive after watching the program. In addition, participants themselves acknowledged the effect of information: 44% of respondents said that they had changed their views as a result of the information that they had been given (Chapman et al., 2002, p. 47). For a number of questions no significant effects emerged. However, the modest scale of the project must be considered in evaluating the results. Relative to the deliberative poll, all three educational strategies were brief and low-key.

Salisbury (2004) reports findings from a more recent experimental study conducted in Britain. An informational booklet was given to a sub-sample of people participating in the British Crime Survey. The booklet contained information about crime and sentencing. No financial incentive was provided to respondents; they were asked not to read the booklet, and no warning was given that they would be questioned about its contents at a later stage. Two weeks later a follow-up interview was conducted with people who had received the booklet. The responses of people who had received the booklet were compared to those of respondents who had not received the information.

The findings were consistent with other experiments in the field. Salisbury reports modest increases in knowledge levels and confidence in criminal justice. For example, in the second interview, respondents who had received the booklet were more likely to see the criminal justice system as being effective in reducing crime, bringing the guilty to justice and meeting the needs of crime victims (see Salisbury, 2004, Figure 5). It is important to note however that this was a conservative test of the relationship between knowledge on the one hand and attitudes or confidence. Since they had not been asked to read the booklet, only 18% of the sub-sample read it in full (a further 19% reported having read certain sections).

The research on the effects of providing information to the public has broadened to include more field studies that engage participants to a greater degree than is possible with a representative poll or even a focus group. As part of a project of the Magistrates' Association and the Probation Boards' Association in Britain, a diverse collection of people attended presentations made by criminal justice professionals. The researchers who evaluated these seminars found that the presentations had increased both the visibility and the acceptance of community-based sentences (see King and Grimshaw, 2003). The participants themselves testified that the sessions had increased their level of knowledge. King and Grimshaw concluded that: "It is clear that majorities of the audiences felt that the presentations had increased their knowledge about community sentences, the magistracy, the probation service, and sentencing in general" (2003; p. 11). In other words, the findings from this report mirrored those emerging from the briefer experiments discussed earlier in this report.

Finally, although it is not a research study per se, it is worth noting a public education website which provides a test of the information-opinion relationship. People who visit www.crimeinfo.org.uk have access to a great deal of information about crime and justice in Britain. In addition, they are also able to participate in an interactive sentencing exercise. This begins by providing participants with a description of a case, at which point they are asked to impose a sentence. The exercise then offers further information about the crime, the offenders, as well as legally relevant material such as the factors that may mitigate or aggravate sentence. At the conclusion, participants are asked whether they stand by their original sentence or whether they would select another disposition. Results tabulated to date (as of February 2005) confirm the pattern emerging from controlled, randomised experiments: participants are less likely to endorse custody as the appropriate sentence.

Education or Propaganda?

Cynics may argue that experiments such as these are little more than exercises in public relations - that is, people change their opinions because they have been fed a biased diet of information. Alternatively, the attitudinal shifts could reflect social desirability considerations associated with the experimental context: participants may change their views towards the position that they believe will make them look more positive in the eyes of the researcher. In my view, neither criticism holds much water in relation to these studies. First, the information provided to participants in the Deliberative Poll represented a range of views, and did not consist simply of lectures by liberal-minded academics. Second, the fact that attitudes shifted dramatically with respect to some issues in the Deliberative Poll (for example), and less so, or not at all for others undermines the social desirability interpretation. If people wanted to "look good" or confirm what they perceived the researchers expected of them, attitude "change" would have occurred on all measures.

It seems clear that if Canadians knew more about the correctional system, their attitudes would be more positive. Discontent will probably remain with respect to issues on which there is a fundamental difference between public opinion and correctional practice. Statutory release may be one such issue. While as we have seen there is considerable support for parole, it seems unlikely that the public will ever embrace this alternate form of release from prison, no matter how much information they have about the program. Participants in focus groups conducted in 2004 were provided with a description of the statutory release program, but they found that "the whole idea of statutory release after two-thirds of the sentence makes little sense" (Environics Research Group, 2004b, p.13).

Information reassures the public

The Environics poll of 2004 provides an illustration of the impact of information. As noted earlier, most Canadians over-estimate by a significant margin the recidivism rate of parolees. After having provided their estimate of the recidivism rate, respondents were given some information and asked another question: " About 10% of all federal offenders released on parole commit another crime while on parole. Do you find this very, somewhat, not very or not at all reassuring? " Fully half of the sample responded they were reassured by this information. The reassurance reported by these respondents may not survive the next media headline about a crime committed by a parolee; nevertheless, the finding suggests that the public are sensitive to positive information, and are not driven purely by ideology.

Finally, it is worth noting the national public forum on parole and public safety conducted in 2000 by the Canadian Criminal Justice Association. This initiative consisted of 12 sessions held across Canada. Although it cannot be considered a true "experiment" such as the Deliberative Poll conducted in Britain (Hough and Park, 2002), this event clearly revealed keen public interest in correctional issues. High percentages of participants responded that the experience had increased their awareness of the issues (see National Parole Board, 2001). This kind of citizen participation is likely to exercise a positive impact on public attitudes to corrections, and to serve as a salutary reminder to the public that news media accounts seldom transmit a true portrait of Canada's prison and parole systems.

Conclusion 

This review has demonstrated considerable stability in public attitudes to correctional issues. The Canadian public remains committed to the correctional ideals that have become associated with the Correctional system in recent years. Canadians continue to support the goal of rehabilitation, and the concept of parole. 11 Although the Correctional system inspires less confidence than other branches of criminal justice, the explanations for this pattern of findings lies in the mandate of the correctional system, and in news media treatment of stories involving corrections. Finally, although such research has been limited in Canada, studies conducted in other countries have demonstrated that public attitudes to the prison and parole systems are sensitive to the information provided to respondents. It is clearly possible to change public attitudes and improve levels of confidence in corrections.

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1 I would like to thank Christa Gillis (CSC) for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this report.

2 This may explain why the 2004 Environics survey found that the views of people with a friend or relative in prison were little different from those without an acquaintance in prison; visiting a penitentiary affords little insight into the true nature of the carceral experience (Environics, 2004a) .

3 With only two points in time, it is hard to draw firm conclusions. This is one reason why Canada needs to conduct confidence surveys of this kind on a regular basis.

4 Thus 75% endorsed this change in 1980, and the percentage endorsing the statement remained this high or higher (rising to 80% in 1988) throughout the decade.

5 For example, in the focus group research conducted by the Angus Reid Group in 1996 "people could not agree on the single most important goal" (Angus Reid, 1996, p. 5).

6 Percentage of respondents assigning high priority: Punishment, 73%; Reintegration, 70%, Deterrence, 64%.

7 Before being asked to agree or disagree with the statement, respondents received a description of halfway houses.

8 The public responding to the 2004 Environics poll did express concern about halfway houses when these institutions were described as housing offenders who had been convicted of violent or sexual offences.

9 Question: "What percentage of all federal offenders released on parole do you think commit another crime while on parole?"

10 Two different experimental designs have been employed. Doble and Klein (1989) used a pre-post design in which subjects were asked to decide on the sentence, and were then given information about the alternative sanctions available. Hough and Roberts (1998) employed a "between subjects" design: half the sample asked to sentence the offender without, and half with, a menu of sentencing options. The result was the same, regardless of the design employed: when alternatives to imprisonment are made salient, support for imprisonment declines.

11 Except, as noted in text, for prisoners serving time for the most serious crimes of violence.